Education International
Education International

European teacher unions on the move for equality

published 27 May 2011 updated 8 June 2011

Fifty representatives of European teacher trade unions met in Brussels this week at the annual ETUCE Equality Committee. The discussions focused on overcoming gender stereotypes in and through education, on measures to achieve economic empowerment of women, and on steps to make trade unions places of equality, empowerment and respect for diversity.

“Let’s walk the talk,” was the main message of this year’s meeting of the Equality Committee. Teacher trade unionists from Norway to Armenia, from Portugal to Moldova, convened for the two day meeting in Brussels to exchange their experiences, and to discuss strategies for achieving equality and respect for diversity in their own organisations, in education and in society as a whole.

The discussions carried on from the EI On the Move for Equality Conference(January 2011, Bangkok), where over 350 teacher unionists had met to set the framework for the equality activities of the global education movement in the years to come. “The On the Move for Equality Conference showed once again that we come from different backgrounds and struggles, but we all share the same goal. Now we need to set concrete steps to move from words to action, to achieve real equality and respect for diversity,” said Kounka Damianova, president of SEB, Bulgaria, and chairperson of the ETUCE Equality Committee.

One of the main priorities is to overcome gender stereotypes in and through education, one of the most persistent obstacles to equality in all areas of the world. Esther Munoz presented the work of the Spanish equality network “Sindicadas” that unites the teacher unions F.E.CC.OO, STEs and FETE-UGT. Together they published teaching materials on the role of women teachers in the second republic, which aim at reviving the memory of the strong women who created the most important movement for equality in Spain, not only in education, but also in communities.

Another key priority in the equality work programme of the global education movement, and reflected in the discussions at this meeting, is the economic empowerment of women in and through education, and the implementation of legal frameworks and international commitments that assist this aim. Guarantee for equal pay for work of equal value is a goal that EI is persistently campaigning for and a key plank for the economic empowerment of women.

Jennifer Moses from NASUWT and Marion Hersh from UCU explained how the UK trade unions are fighting the attacks on public services introduced by the UK government in the course of the economic downturn. Women and marginalised groups bear the brunt of these cuts, because they are already in a weaker economic situation. The unions have succeeded in having government and employers produce equality impact assessments of their measuresA third priority is to make unions places of real equality, empowerment and respect for diversity. Elizabeth Wood and Martin Levinson from the University of Exeter presented the results of the “Equity Matters” study commissioned by the EI Research Institute, which examines teacher unions’ conceptions of equality. Discussions and presentations in the plenary and in breakout groups led to recommendations for concrete steps to “live our values,” such as collecting and widely publishing statistics on equality themes, introducing mentoring programmes and trainings, replicating equality committees at the national level, and having transparent budgets, recruitment and promotion procedures.

“Two days of intense discussions have inspired all of us to continue our collective efforts to advance equality with renewed focus, to share our experiences and celebrate achievements,” said Jan Eastman, EI Deputy General Secretary. “We are on the move for equality!”